Entering a Contest with Fingers Crossed for Luck


I have not had great luck lately with online group sewing adventures. The last couple I entered, I was unable to finish because I ran into patterning problems (a sew-along, a coat muslin that simply will not behave), or general life issues (a contest, coincidentally another coat, but one I couldn’t finish because my sewing room went under construction for some home remodeling), or other little hooks (like getting bumped out of a sewing bee contest in an early round, along with about three-quarters of the other entrants).

But we live in hope, right?

The June contest at PR doesn’t require you to pick a pattern and complete that specific pattern during the contest framework. You don’t have to do matched wardrobes or specific assortments of pieces or use certain fabrics.

There is one goal, and only one goal.


Sew a lot.

Sew like the wind!

The idea behind this contest is to dig into old stash and sew as much of it as possible in a month. I don’t know how many yards I might churn through, but I know I’m going to have a lot of fun trying.

We can pattern and muslin in advance, and we can pretreat our fabrics in advance. So guess what I’ll be doing this weekend! My tracing and cutting station is already set up. I’ve pulled out several pieces of fabric for pretreating and the patterns I will use to cut them. Right now, I’m tracing the pattern for some fabric I pretreated last fall and still haven’t managed to cut or sew. I’m kind of in the pondering stage — I know, for example, that I would like to make a new shower curtain from some Alexander Henry fabric I bought a couple of years ago, and this might be the right time to make it. It’s a simple project that would chew through some yardage, about 4.5 yards total for some pretty simple seaming.

I also want to make a couple of silk blouses, and maybe a couple of breezy summer dresses (I love dresses on a hot day!), so not everything I do will be easy-peasy straight line sewing. But I’m still in the pondering and planning stage, and one of the fun things about this contest is that it will let me stay nimble all month. As long as I sew with older stash and keep sewing, this should be one I can manage to get through.

And winning that Mood contest a few weeks back makes me think that maybe my luck has changed. 🙂

Are you planning to enter any contests or sew-alongs this summer?



Help! Opinions needed!

I’m lighting up the bat signal here. I need a second opinion on the buttons for this cardigan. My original plan was black buttons, but the ones I bought (very pretty antique shiny black five-petal flowers) won’t fit through the buttonholes.

I sorted through the button box, and came up with these. They fit. I bought them because they remind me of some daisy buttons on a Chanel organdy blouse. But is silver okay with this cardigan? Or should I go shopping for black buttons?


Miette, unblocked and with many stray ends and lifelines


A closer view of the buttons

Are they too shiny or too dressy? I think I’ve reached the point where I’ve looked at so many buttons from my button box that I can’t see them anymore. Help help help!


To me, from me, with love and lots of presser feet

So, I had a birthday last week. I’m one of those people who is perfectly comfortable dropping a hundred or so dollars on splurge purchases every now and then, but I hate to pull the trigger on bigger-ticket items. I can have the money for something earmarked and waiting for months before I’ll actually go out and buy the intended item. This is why I started using my birthday as an excuse to jump in and do it.

Last year, for example, I bought this beauty.


I live within a football field’s length of a trail head to one of the best trail networks in the country. Buying this bike was a no-brainer, and yet it took me months of dithering before I finally pulled out the debit card. I use the bike all the time. Can’t think why I waited so long to get it.

So this year, I knew I would get a new sewing machine. Actually, I’ve been plotting to get a new machine for a long time, ever since my old iron Singer (circa 1960, one of the really heavy cast iron models) died a painful death. That machine was a work horse. It could sew through anything. I’m convinced it could have stitched through plywood. When it died, I picked up a cheap Singer as a temporary measure, something to see me through until I could decide on a better machine. That was maybe four years ago, five years ago, and the best I can say for that machine is that it was there. So now it was past time to get a machine that can actually handle four layers of denim without a psychotic episode.

So here she is.


Janome 7330

I’m not a quilter, which means that I’m not the target demographic for most sewing machine manufacturers. Most high-end machines come equipped with features (hundreds of decorative stitch patterns, special free-motion capabilities) that have little to no application in garment sewing. What I need is pretty simple, really. I need a sturdy, fast, reliable machine. I need a straight stitch, a zigzag, a buttonholer, and maybe a blind hem stitch (though that’s not all that important to me). I need the guts of the machine to be strong enough to power through multiple layers of Melton wool coating. I need a sole plate that won’t let flimsy silk chiffons poke into the bobbin mechanism. I need a standard assortment of presser feet. And that’s pretty much it.

My new Janome cost less than the bike I bought last year, and that even included the price of some extra presser feet and a bit of fabric. I played around with the shop model for a while, and I was satisfied that the motor is strong enough to handle an occasional tough job. It’s not a glamorous machine, as far as machine glamor goes, but it’s the best model that does the things I need it to do. The next step up would have taken me into quilting models, not into more horsepower.

I’m in the process of converting part of our basement into a sewing studio. This is a good thing. The basement is finished, with windows and good overhead lighting. As you can tell from the photo above, I need to add some task lighting, too. But I’ve spent most of the past week or so getting things transferred from the spare bedroom (smaller space, also doubles as a home office) to the basement and setting things up down there. My workout studio is down there already, along with a large tv with cable and some comfy furniture, so the whole downstairs zone is starting to feel like my refuge. I’m still fine-tuning the placement of the sewing table, ironing board, etc., but I’d say it’s about 90% there.

What are your favorite features on your sewing machine? I’ve fallen pretty hard for my needle up/down button. Such a silly thing, but I love it.


A new summer maxi

I’ve blogged about this dress before, about the process of cutting and seaming it to get the stripes to align properly. I thought I would also show you the two methods I used to finish the raw edges at neck and armscye.

This fabric is a very light jersey, very fluid and drapey, perfect for a floaty kind of garment. The skirt on this dress moves beautifully. With this kind of very light jersey, though, I always want to make sure that the seams above the bust line — shoulders, armscyes, neck bands — are stable and clean.

For the armscyes, I chose an invisible banding finish that I learned years ago from a commercial pattern. First, you cut a strip of fabric on the grain to use as a binding. The strip should be about two inches wide, and the length depends on the size of the armscye. Measure the armscye opening and deduct 20%. Then you add a bit for seam allowances — I do half-inch seams here just because it makes the math easier. But you want this strip to be about 20% shorter than the actual armscye. You’ll stretch it to fit the opening, and the stretch will help it curl to the wrong side and lay nice and flat.


Each stripe is about an inch wide, so that’s a 2″ strip.


Measuring a curved edge is easiest when you stand the tape measure on its side.

Because the armscye is a round opening, I make a loop by sewing the short sides together, then folding the piece in half lengthwise, wrong sides together, and stitching the raw edges together with a stretchy stitch (in this case, a plain zigzag). Using a stretch stitch makes it easier to stretch the piece to fit the armscye, but sewing the edges together makes the piece more stable when you’re attaching it.


Just making a loop.

Then you quarter the loop as you would an elastic loop and pin it to the armscye on the right side.


Quarters marked with pins.


Loop pinned to the right side of the armscye, raw edges together, using the quarter marks for placement.

Then you stitch this in place using either a 1/4″ or 3/8″ narrow stretch seam (dealer’s choice), and without trimming anything, turn the whole band to the inside and stitch it down to the armscye. This means you’re stitching through five layers of fabric — the garment, plus four layers of the band. When I stitch this second turned seam, I make sure to stitch an eighth or a quarter inch wider than the first stitching line. So, if I used a 1/4″ seam to attach the band to the right side, I use a 3/8″ or 1/2″ seam when I flip it around to the wrong side. This ensures that the raw seam line is encased in all those layers of fabric.

And that’s really it. The result is a clean edge with a stable finish that won’t be distorted by the weight of the dress.


The view from the public side.


The private side.

For the neck band, I chose an exposed lapped V-neck band. This band starts in exactly the same way, by cutting a strip two inches wide and 20% shorter than the length of the raw garment edge. Because this dress has a vee on both the front and back, I cut two strips, one for each side, because I would lap them in both the front and back. Instead of sewing them into a loop, I just folded and stitched the long raw edge, then pinned it to the right side of the neckband.


Applying the first neck edge band.


And then the second band.

I never stitch all the way to the vee point, but leave about a half inch free where it laps. This is because you can make yourself crazy trying to hit that V in exactly the right spot, in exactly the right way. Or at least, I can. Maybe others more gifted dressmakers out there don’t struggle with this the way I do, but I’ve basically given up trying to hit that mark. I found a cheat that works a bit better for me.


In which I display what a cheater I am.

Then I turn the band so that it lies flat with just a bit of the folded edge poking up from the neck edge. And I pin very carefully to make sure those edges are lapped properly on the wrong side. Some sewists advocate stitching in the ditch at this point, but I prefer to stitch just next to the ditch on the garment piece to catch that band and hold it in place. I aim for a scant 1/8″ or maybe 1/16″ from the ditch, and I use a narrow stretch stitch, the narrowest setting on my machine. As I approach the point of the V, I shorten the stitch length so that there are more stitches at the point. This adds strength to the seam at that point, and it eliminates the need to back stitch at the V.


The finished band, not yet pressed.

So there you have it. Here’s the finished dress, McCall’s 7121 View B, with lightweight striped cotton jersey from Fishman’s Fabrics.


Blissing out over the perfect stripe matching. Worth the work!


I’m crazy about the side view with those stripes.

So that’s it. Another summer maxi, weightless and cool, that will be just perfect for knocking around town on a hot day. This one took a bit of time and fussing, but I’m really happy with how it turned out and can’t wait for the chance to wear it. I’m thinking with either silver or red flat sandals and a bracelet, this one is good to go. With stripes this bold, I wouldn’t want to add a lot of detail in the accessories.


Third finished sweater of the year

I finally finished seaming my Stoker Cowl, and I’m already wearing it. (ravlink to the project page) The pattern came from the Knit to Flatter book, an Amy Herzog-led book of patterns premised on the idea that certain body types should rely on certain design features. Although there is some truth that some designs will look better on one person than another, I think most of the patterns in this book were plain enough to have a pretty universal appeal. I certainly think this one fits that description.

green sweater

This is a very simple sweater with 2×2 ribbing, some basic waist shaping, and that dramatic cowl. I love the cowl. It’s very soft and luxurious to wear, and is every bit as cozy as I’d hoped it would be when I first spotted this pattern. Other than the cowl, though, this is a basic sweater shape, something that I think most women can easily wear. My only changes to the pattern were to lengthen and narrow the sleeves — those sleeves! Geez, did they give me trouble. Remember this from a few months back?


Sleevus Giganticus


I had to reknit the sleeves three times before they were narrow enough to wear, and they’re still too big. This might be partly due to the yarn I used. The yarn is Classic Elite Attitude, a silk-cotton blend that I picked up on a super-special sale for $1.75 a skein a few years back. This yarn is now discontinued, and with good reason. It’s pretty wimpy stuff, prone to pilling, and it drapes and stretches more like an alpaca than a cotton. I suspect the sleeves kept growing because of the yarn. The body is also bigger than anticipated — I knit a 38″ bust size but probably should have knit the next smaller size. It’s not a yarn I would recommend, but I used it because I had leftovers from making this cardigan.

green cardigan

That’s the Strawberry Lace Wrap from Veronik Avery’s wonderful book, Knitting Classic Style (ravlink to project page). I love this cardigan, and people comment on it whenever I wear it. There’s something about that wrap and tie front that is so easy and comfortable. Really a great pattern. So now I have a little twin set of sorts — not exactly the kind of twin set that the pearl-and-tea crowd might go for, but it works for me.

I thought I would also show you one of my favorite tricks for seaming sweater knits. Instead of pinning the seams in place, I use baby hair clips.


They grab the knit and hold it in place without distorting the fabric, and they can handle even the bulkiest knits. And they were very inexpensive. I can’t take credit for this idea — someone else suggested it to me, but it has been so useful that I wanted to pass it along. It’s one of those tricks that, once I used it, I can’t imagine ever not using it.

There are still about 2.5 balls of this green yarn left, and I think I might just pitch it. Comes a point where you just can’t stand to look at the same yarn any longer!

What do you do with your yarn leftovers when you weren’t all that happy with the yarn?



Farmers Market, I Am Ready for You!

Today is the opening day of the farmer’s market in my little community. I don’t know if that makes it the number-one happiest day of the year, but it’s certainly in the top ten. Not only does this mean that we’re maybe safe from winter weather (maybe – it does snow in May sometimes, but only sometimes), but it also means the beginning of good summer meals. I mean, the difference between a summer tomato from the farmers market and a winter tomato from the grocery store — are these even the same vegetable? And how about a peach that ripened on the tree versus one from the grocery store that crunches like an apple when you bite into it. Ugh. That crunchy hard peach is an insult to real peaches everywhere.

So today it was slim pickings — asparagus, mushrooms, eggs, but I arrived too late for rhubarb, sob. Next week! My favorite farmer from Michigan assures me he’ll have early strawberries next week, too, and told me to get there early. I remember last year, the first week he had strawberries, they were completely sold out by 10:00 a.m. So I’ll be setting my alarm for sure. This same farmer has the best eggs, too, and so tonight’s dinner will be an egg white omelet with asparagus and a bit of porcini mushroom. Yum. I already can’t wait for dinner.

I do most of my grocery shopping at the area farmers markets, to the point that the farmers know me and remember to point out things they know I’ll like. That makes it extra fun. I know it’s almost like a cliche to rave about farmers markets, but I’ve been a proud addict for decades, since back when I practiced law in Indianapolis and they started a weekday market in the little street next to the city-county building. I still remember (with incredible longing) these tiny plums we used to get there, about the size of grapes with very small stones. Best. Plums. Ever. I used to gorge on them while reciting the William Carlos Williams poem, “This Is Just to Say” —

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Because really, if ever there were plums that deserved a poetic tribute, it was those tiny plums from the farmers market in Indianapolis.

Anyway. Forgive me. I tend to get a little overwrought on the first farmers market day of the year. *ggg* It’s no coincidence that I finished this sundress in time for the opening. I cut it out a couple weeks ago with this happy, anticipatory image of walking around the park with a summer breeze catching the hem, towing my little red wagon behind me. (This one with, yes, the drink carrier for my coffee cup — this little wagon has proved to be a most worthy investment.)


This dress is very loose and billowy, a trapeze shape with a mullet hem. It’s very simple, just a center front seam, center back seam, side seams, and bust darts. Sometimes the simplest shapes are the ones that require the most fitting, though. I labored over this one. I think the key to a good fit with a shape like this is in the shoulders and upper bust. If you nail the fit there, the rest of the dress can be loose but it won’t appear oversized. So I tinkered quite a lot with the shaping in that area, and I ended up taking it in about 2″ in the shoulders and 3″ in the upper bust.

I wanted something loose and breezy because I’ve been dealing with medication changes since about October, and each change causes a change in weight. I’m up, I’m down, and it’s driving me a little crazy. So I thought a dress like this might help me cope while we get things stable again. Right now, I’m probably up about 16 or 17 pounds from where I was when we started with all this tinkering (but last week, I was only up 11 — really, the fluctuations are frustrating), and as we all know, every stone (14 pounds) is a size. But I know my shoulders won’t change shape much, so a dress that’s fitted well through the shoulders and loose everywhere else might still be wearable after I’m out of this phase.

Here’s a view of the side to show off the hem shaping.


As I was snapping some side views, I started thinking about how I might tinker with that waistline after things are stable again. The pattern, Simplicity 1621, has a tank top version of this same piece with elastic at the high waist, and I might add some elastic later.


I originally purchased this pattern to make the jacket from some black silk organza. It was pure coincidence that I was thinking about this black and gold batik from The Needle Shop and spotted this mullet dress — and just like that, my planned black and gold batik kimono became a sundress.

The sizing on this pattern is S, M, L, etc., instead of numbered sizes. I normally expect a Medium to be the equivalent of a 12-14, which is just where I am now — 12 on a normal day, 14 when I’m puffy. But this one is a little different, and the medium is a 14-16. That’s why it required so much tinkering in the shoulder shaping. It was definitely as broad as a loose 16 should be, but I wanted more of a 12 in that area.

The only other adjustment was my standard FBA. I didn’t even shorten them length. If I make this one again — and I might, in a smaller size out of a knit fabric instead of a woven — I might narrow the shoulder straps a bit. I don’t think they’re too wide, necessarily, but I think they would look fresher and more modern if they were just a bit narrower.

There’s something almost tiger-like about that print, don’t you think? Here’s a better view of the print.


It’s batik, black over a sort of marbled gold and brown in a pattern of circles and lines, but from a distance, it almost has an animal print vibe. I like animal prints, so I’m good with that. I don’t ordinarily wear these autumnal gold and brown shades — and looking through the photos, I realized that my standard silver jewelry looks wrong with this, so I’ll probably wear some black onyx earrings with it next time. And I think there’s enough black in the print that the golden tones don’t wash me out, but maybe that’s wishful thinking. I’ll wear the dress in either case!

What’s your favorite thing from the farmers market?


The result of careful cutting

I’ve just barely started the sewing on the projects I cut out last weekend, but because I blogged about my cutting trick to match patterns, I thought I would show you guys the results.

This is the bodice center front seam. Look at the perfection of that matching. Nailed it on the first attempt.


And here’s the center back seam, also shockingly perfect.


The center back seam of the skirt was a little less successful. I must have pulled it or something while sewing it, because it is nicely aligned for the bottom 2/3 of the skirt but then went a little askew on the top third.


Even so, it’s not too bad, but I’m still going to rip it and restitch it along that misaligned bit. The good parts don’t show in the picture because I was using my ironing board as a layout surface, and the rest of the skirt is falling off the end of the board.

In any case, this isn’t earthshaking stuff, but I love it when things work out, and the bodice pieces are definitely working out. Whew! I’ll just have to be more careful with the maxi-skirt pieces — the weight of the fabric might be what distorted that seam.